There’s a reason it’s called taking a leap of faith when you decide to transition from full-time employment to a completely freelance career.
For even the most seasoned of content marketing professionals, letting go of the comforts and protections of an employer and setting out into what feels like a sea-of-unknowns is a terrifying jump.
Becoming a full-time freelance content marketer
I experienced this firsthand when I quit my editorial director gig at a flourishing start-up to travel the world and build my company. Like many other freelancers who came before me, I built up my network, I landed a few anchor clients, and I spent time padding my savings account before putting in my notice.
Three years later, I’ve weathered through plenty of financial storms and celebrated economic wins. And perhaps most importantly, I’ve accepted the anxiety of an unsteady income stream that’s unpredictable. I’ve also grown accustomed to setting my own hours, deciding which assignments and clients to onboard, and creating a healthy life and work boundaries.
And then, a pandemic happened.
Part of being a solopreneur is learning to adjust on the fly.
And the ripple-effect of COVID-19 has become a crash course on pivoting for many marketers. And it’s potentially creating a whole new league of freelancers. Since many marketing and content creators are being laid off and the traditional job market is at a stand-still, it makes sense that many will consider if now is the time to, well, take the significant, scary risk and try starting their own gig.
While we encourage everyone to chase after a career that’s dictated by their own rules, it is vital to grasp the realities of being a freelancer. After all, this professional path does offer many benefits, but it also requires other sacrifices. And to reap success, it’s vital to effectively strategize up your LinkedIn, your digital CV, and your website for consistent lead generation.
Last but not least, there is no real school of entrepreneurism, so investing in skill development will set your budding empire apart from the competition.
Sounds like a lot, right? It is. But luckily, we are here to help. Consider this your ultimate guide to transitioning to a full-time freelance content marketer.
We will cover:
- Freelancing full-time benefits
- Freelancing full-time downfalls
- Ideas to build a strong CV and portfolio
- Ideas to turn your LinkedIn page into a sales pitch
- Ideas to improve all of your business-building skills
Why the market may need more freelancers soon
Though it isn’t a rosy picture to paint, there is no denying the economic impact of the novel strain of coronavirus. With many countries around the world and most of the states in America in some form of shutdown or new restrictions, many industries are struggling. In response, brands have laid off or furloughed their employees or found other ways to cut their spending.
Management consultant, c-suite executive and career expert Joanna Dodd Massey, Ph.D., predicts the United States is likely heading toward a recession. Still, we won’t know for sure until the end of the second quarter of 2020. How come? As she explains, the technical definition is two consecutive quarters of economic decline. “Recessions create a proverbial Catch 22 for corporate America: Companies need to continue to provide optimum services and goods for good customer service, yet they — like the consumer — are suffering economically and cannot afford to hire,” she explains.
While this is discouraging for the vast majority of the workforce, it does provide a silver lining for freelancers. Or aspiring ones. How come? They are optimal hires for several reasons.
Here’s what we mean: Another way to define a freelancer is as a contractor. Typically hired for the duration of a project or with an agreement to produce various pieces of content, freelancers are not employed by companies but contracted to complete a specified amount of work. As brands start to think about moving forward, they will have limited budgets to operate with, and yet, they need to move fast.
“As a contractor, there is an approximately 25 to 30 percent lower cost to the employer when you work in tax contribution, healthcare benefits, retirement benefits, paid time off, and holidays, to name a few. Organizations will likely go freelancer first and then potentially convert to a permanent hire as the new normal declares itself.”
When hiring a salaried employee, leaders have to consider the health of the employee, as well as work/life balance. State and federal regulations also require a certain expectation of output and offer protections to keep employees happy. Though it isn’t exactly a positive, freelancers are the navigators of their own ships — and they can choose to work as little or as much as they want.
As writer and marketing consultant Nick Wolny explains, companies will actively seek new ways to be agile and flexible with their labor. Thus, a skilled contractor can be a better and smarter investment since companies can ask for a 24-hour turnaround at a lower rate than onboarding a hire. It’s fast, easy, and well, a lower risk.
“Freelancers come in on day one ready to move forward,” Wolny puts it.
4 benefits of full-time freelancing
Becoming your own boss brings a host of hurdles but also plenty of perks. Here, experts shed insight on the exciting benefits of transitioning into a full-time freelance career.
- You can work when you are most productive.
- Your day-to-day is full of variety.
- You can have a remote office, from all around the world.
- You can say “no.”
1. You can work when you are most productive.
While some people thrive in the wee hours after sunset, others can barely make it out of bed before noon. Everyone’s peak periods of productivity vary, and with a traditional 9-to-5, it can be challenging to force yourself into a bubble that doesn’t energize you.
But as Massey explains, full-time freelancing allows you the ability to set hours that will enable you to perform at your highest capacity. It also takes away some of the stressors of balancing work and life, she adds, since you have more time to take your dog for a walk, make a doctor’s appointment, and so on. Since there is no real boss to report back to regularly, you have full autonomy of your schedule.
2. Your day-to-day is full of variety.
Your parents may have enjoyed going to the same gig day-in and day-out for four years without much change. But younger generations are more attracted to jobs that continuously build their skills and spark their interest. If this sounds a lot like you, Massey says a transition to full-time freelancing will feel like a breath of fresh air. How come?
No week is ever precisely the same, providing more room for creativity and learning on the fly, says Massey:
“Freelancing allows you to work for a variety of companies in different sectors and different projects. It keeps work interesting, challenging and provides for a lot of professional growth.”
3. You can have a remote office, from all around the world.
Though your travel options are limited during a pandemic, generally speaking, freelancing provides more ZIP code flexibility.
As marketing consultant Brittany Graham shares, her favorite aspect of working for herself is the freedom to check emails, have client calls, and send invoices from any corner of the globe. As you consider making the transition to full-time freelancing, think about spending a month in Europe or the Caribbean, or really, anywhere you dream about. Though it’s important to strategize around the time zones of your clients, most of the time, you can make it work.
4. You can say “no.”
Sure, if there is an aspect of your gig that you feel is unreasonable with an employer, you can always push back. However, that often leads to consequences or a potential set back. Wolny says as a freelancer, though, you can pick and choose who you want to work with, as well as the industries you prefer. Once you figure out your sweet spot, you can spend time attracting clients who fit your needs and would benefit from your super skills, and thus, design the work-life you want.
4 pitfalls of freelancing full-time
From the outside admiring in, being your own boss seems, well, amazing. And as solopreneurs will tell you, sometimes it is. And other times, it’s stressful and exhausting. Some months you can’t believe how well you’re doing, and others, you crave any lead at all.
Before you focus solely on the rose-colored benefits of freelancing, make sure you understand the potential pitfalls, too:
- Income is never guaranteed.
- You have to figure out your own healthcare, retirement plans, and vacations.
- Taxes are more complicated.
- You have to always fuel your pipeline
1. Income is never guaranteed.
Regardless if you’ve been freelancing for 10 years or a few months, there is no monthly guarantee of income. Though some contracts do last for several months or even a year, contractors are at-will employees, and usually, can be canceled with only 30 days of notice.
While a full-time professional can expect a steady paycheck, a freelancer has zero guarantees, says Massey:
“Your income can be ‘lumpy,’ which means you do very well during specific periods, but then go through dry spells where you don’t bring in much income at all. Freelancers need to be very good at saving and financial planning.”
2. You have to figure out your own healthcare, retirement plans, and vacations.
As part of a competitive employment package, companies will offer extensive benefits, including excellent healthcare coverage, 401K matching, paid vacations, and the list goes on. But as a freelancer, you are responsible for all of those aspects yourself. And as Massey reminds, the concept of vacation changes when you work for yourself, since any time away from your business usually results in a loss of income:
“Despite the freedom, the work hours can be grueling, often 24/7, depending on the project. Being a freelancer does not always mean having a lot of work-life balance. You still have to deliver for companies to want to hire you again.”
Also, considering a company won’t match your contributions to retirement, freelancers also need to research effective ways to prepare for this stage of life. Before making the leap or deciding to pursue this type of career, do your best to prepare for the financial implications and shifts required.
3. Taxes are more complicated.
Once you snag a handful of lucrative contracts, you’ll feel as if you’re floating on the financial cloud nine. But before you start spending all of that hard-earned dough, remember that you haven’t paid taxes yet. So technically, not all of that money is yours.
“You need to have some discipline to make the regular contributions for both federal and state taxes, where applicable, while you receive income. Many individuals who contract/freelance will get themselves in a difficult situation by spending and not setting aside the tax contributions they are responsible for, and come tax time, there is a big scramble.”
4. You have to always fuel your pipeline.
For Graham, the hardest part about freelancing is finding new clients. While this is always true, it’s particularly true during a pandemic. And, considering more freelancers will flock to this lifestyle, the competition will continue to become stiffer.
In addition to completing the work assigned to you, freelancers must always have an eye on the future, by pitching themselves and their services far and wide. In addition to networking groups and referrals, building your digital footprint through your CV and LinkedIn is an impactful way to create leads.
4 ways to optimize your CV Portfolio for full-time freelancing work
When you’re job searching for traditional employment, you update your resume, brush up your cover letter and dive into applications. When trying to build your freelancing empire, the process looks differently. One of the most critical parts is developing your CV Portfolio so it captures the work you’ve completed for happy, returning clients.
Here, some top tips to strategize this vital part of your business:
- Showcase your wins from a high-level.
- Follow the same rubrics with client work.
- Celebrate the perks of freelance hiring.
- Showcase your unique value.
1. Showcase your wins from a high-level.
Whether it’s in your About page or on the home page of your website or portfolio, Graham encourages you to list out impressive high-level feats. Whether you built a content strategy from the ground-up or you helped traffic grow by a certain percentage, these one-liners will encourage potential clients to keep reading.
As Graham says:
“By creating a portfolio or website, you can showcase your success with past or current clients, you demonstrate the relationships and type of work you can produce for others.”
2. Follow the same rubrics with client work.
Wolny says it’s smarter to package past work samples in a way that will help future clients understand exactly the circumstances in which you took someone from point A to point B. That’s why those one-liners in the introduction should link out to or give a preview to a more in-depth explainer of your services:
“You control the narrative here. All too often, we assume prospects can relate to a previous client. They can’t because they’re too busy thinking about their own problems instead.”
To make it easy for them, he follows the same format that explains, in detail, the previous client’s problem, why they reached out, what other solutions they had tried, what he delivered and the subsequent results. Plus, since you can’t always advertise your clients due to non-compete agreements, Wolny says this approach makes it easier to anonymize your projects, while still demonstrating your success.
3. Celebrate the perks of freelance hiring.
Are you currently based in one time zone, but the majority of your clients are in another? Thus, allowing you to work when they’re asleep and get ahead on projects? Or, do you tend to do your best work late at night, so your clients always wake up to an inbox full of content?
There are perks of flexible freelance schedules that many employers don’t think about, which is why Mullings suggests including them on your CV. You can go a step further and provide concrete examples of how these advantages worked in a past client’s favor, too.
4. Showcase your unique value.
Every content marketer has a special talent that sets them above others in the industry. While some are super-skilled at SEO development, others excel at copywriting.
Wherever you fall, career expert and entrepreneur Jessica Zweig says to make it clear on your CV:
“Be able to distinguish and articulate your unique value, and what sets you apart from the rest. Share thought leadership content — blogs, videos, posts on social media — to let your work speak for itself.”
Business coach and podcaster Tiffany Carter also adds that when companies are hiring for freelance work, they are most interested in looking for concrete skill sets, versus hiring a generalist. So, be sure your CV has those skill sets they are looking for clearly listed.
4 ways to optimize your LinkedIn as a full-time freelancer
One killer source of leads is your social media footprint. Mainly, LinkedIn. This platform yields many opportunities to show up in search when companies are in the market for a content creator.
Try these practices to get started:
- Mark yourself as available.
- Write a clear summary.
- Update your media section.
- Share helpful, industry-related content.
1. Mark yourself as available.
Sort of like dating, if you don’t put yourself out there, it’s tough to find the right client match. Mullings recommends newbie freelancers to update their LinkedIn tag to ‘immediately available.’ This function lets potential leads know that you are ready to get started ASAP, which could be a selling point for a fast-turnaround project.
2. Write a clear summary.
Considering you’re going after content marketing gigs, your LinkedIn summary should be 100 percent perfect. And by that, we mean no typos, no lead-on sentences, and definitely no confusing sentiments.
As Wolny puts it, your LinkedIn intro should clarify what the outcomes and benefits are when people hire you. “Zero in on those details first in the opening sentences of your introduction,” he suggests.
3. Update the media section.
Have you ever given a second glance at the media section of your LinkedIn profile? Likely not, since Wolny says many people overlook it. As a content marketer, any commentary you’ve contributed can go a long way in demonstrating your impact and unique value. “Make sure to link to past features, including articles, videos, and other content assets. These can be effective for asserting industry expertise,” he explains.
Zweig also reminds freelancers that even if they work from home in their pajamas, their profile should still sway super professional. This includes a clear cover photo, headshot, headline, and description.
4. Share helpful, valuable content.
When you’re advising a brand on their blog strategy, what is your typical recommendation for a posting schedule? Likely, once a day, a week or a month dependent on their goals. The worst thing anyone can do is to publish a ton of content and then go rogue. So why would you do the same on your Linkedin?
Zweig encourages freelancers to actively share articles, blogs, videos, and other posts that demonstrate your industry knowledge. With consistency, you clearly illustrate you have a pulse on the market. (Psst: you can even share this article!)
4 skill investments every full-time freelancer should make
When you decide to become your own boss, it comes with many more responsibilities than you expect. Not only are you on the hook for any content assignments or contract deliverables, but you need to become a salesperson. A bookkeeper. A business developer. A project manager. And many other hats you can’t predict.
As you start the process of going freelance full-time, consider these skill investments:
- Take digital marketing courses.
- Learn to prospect online.
- Develop a niche.
- Find a mentor.
1. Take digital marketing courses.
Before you can sell your services to a client in need, you should know the ins-and-outs of the skills required. These include, but are not limited to, SEO keyword research, basic copywriting, paid brand copy, product descriptions, blog development and management, inbound marketing, newsletter copy — and so on.
Check out our guide to determining the best digital marketing courses that can upgrade your resume to an expert level. And perhaps most importantly, your writing speed will become faster. This, more than anything else, Wolny says strengthens your creativity muscle and can lead to a higher income. Faster, expert-level output equals more work, after all.
2. Learn to prospect online.
You may be able to write captivating copy, but you’re not a bonafide salesperson. And definitely not for yourself. Wolny says the ability the reach, befriend new contacts and turn conversations into clients takes practice. But when you master it, it can quickly fill up your calendar. By joining Facebook groups for content marketers, taking free e-courses on best sales practices, and other measures, you become more comfortable with this part of building a freelance business.
3. Develop a niche.
If you don’t love something, you won’t stick with it. And even if technically speaking, you can develop content marketing strategies for a pet brand; if you aren’t a big fan of animals, it’s likely not a fit for you. Or, you could be okay at website copy, but your real star power is in blog development. Let your strengths shine and zero-in on a niche.
“If you love writing, learn how to be an excellent copywriter for digital content. If you love spending time on social media, learn how to become a social media manager or a content creator.”
4. Find a mentor.
Particularly in the beginning stages, reaching out to a content marketer and full-time freelancer you admire can be comforting and incredibly educational. As Carter explains, learning from a whiz who is already successfully doing what you desire to do can guide your path better than any e-course or article.
They can even recommend classes or certifications to consider and provide feedback on your website, LinkedIn or CV. And if you build the relationship, it can be something to turn to when you need it.
“You will have a coach or a mentor that you can refer to for guidance when something comes up with a client,” she continues. “This will give you a great deal of confidence since you will know you have this extra support in your back pocket.”